According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – anon
Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – anon
Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson
We can’t control God; God is uncontrollable. God can’t control us; God’s love is uncontrolling! - Thomas Jay Oord
Life in perspective but always in process... as we are relational beings in process to one another so life events are in process in relation to each event... as God is to Self, is to world, is to us... like Father, like sons and daughters, like events... life in process yet always in perspective. - R.E. Slater

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Why Tim Gombis Doesn't Go Far Enough

Tim Gombis on the New Perspective (and why it doesn't go far enough)

by Andrew Perriman

The problem, in the first place, is that Tim appears to view things primarily through the lens of Galatians, where the question of whether Gentiles need concretely to identify themselves with Law-based Israel by means of circumcision, etc., is very much at the forefront. This is a specific issue, however, occasioned by the activity of Judaizing apostles from Jerusalem. What are the markers of authentic membership of the people of God? Works of the Spirit or those particular “works of the Law” that demarcate Jews from Gentiles (Gal. 3:5)?

Romans, on the other hand, addresses the issue of “works of the Law” on a much broader and logically prior basis. Here the premise of Paul’s argument is that a “day of wrath” is coming upon the ancient world. This will bring a dramatic and decisive end to the whole system of pagan religion and ethics; and Israel, despite having the Law and a bunch of other privileges, will not be exempt from “judgment”. Judgment means destruction (Rom. 9:22). So the critical question is not about membership but about survival. On what basis will the “righteous” live when the day of wrath comes (cf. Hab. 2:4)? Not on the basis of “works of the Law”, because the Law now condemns, but on the basis of a radical faith—which is also faithfulness—in the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection.

So the New Perspective, as Tim Gombis presents it, is limited in the first place by its failure to grasp the historical-eschatological dimensions of Paul’s thought. Tim cites the generalized Christian apocalypticism of scholars such as J. C. Beker, Lou Martyn, Bruce Longenecker, Douglas Campbell, and Leander Keck. But I think that Paul’s apocalypticism is much more focused, contingent, historical and, indeed, Jewish—and that his argument about Law and faith in Romans 2-4 cannot be properly understood without taking this narrative of wrath into account.

Tim writes that the “incarnation is the invasion of the Son of God to retake God’s world for God’s glory”. I would say that the resurrection of Jesus is for Paul a clear indication that the God of Israel intends to annex the Greek-Roman world for the sake of his glory. I think that Paul lies quite a bit further outside the sphere of a theology shaped by the western Christendom-modern paradigm.

This brings us to the second limitation, which is highlighted by this paragraph:
Several scholars have complained that the “new perspective” can tend merely to describe Paul’s flow of thought sociologically so that we’re left with a very thin theological reading of Paul. This criticism isn’t too far from the mark. I agree with Stephen Westerholm’s point that while “new perspective” scholars may outstrip the reformers in grasping historically what Paul was getting at, they cannot match the reformers at recovering Paul’s deeper theological impulses. Interpreters such as Augustine, Luther, and Calvin do indeed provide for us excellent models of theological interpretation of Paul.
The word “sociologically” is wrong. Paul’s argument remains thoroughly theological even when located within its own historical-eschatological setting, for the reason that I gave above: it is not merely a matter of the terms of membership in the covenant community; it has to do with the agenda of Israel’s God. But the criticism is correct: we have not yet worked out how to derive from the re-contextualized Paul a theology compelling enough to drive and sustain the life and thought of the church today.

The answer to this dilemma, however, cannot be that we simply bolt a Reformation theology on to the New Perspective. Tim Gombis seems to want to both have his cake and eat it. These are incompatible paradigms. The distinction between what Paul meant historically and his “deeper theological impulses” is an invalid one. We only have the historical Paul.

Instead, we have to take the much more difficult approach of plotting a new theological trajectory from a consistent New Perspective reading of Paul to land somewhere beyond the modalities of Christendom—remember that the Reformation was only an attempt to reform the Christendom model of church. If the insights of the Reformers or of modern evangelicalism then help us to understand more clearly what it means to have been brought into this narrative, fine. The same could be said of any other Christendom tradition. But Paul has first to be allowed to speak for himself.

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